When I was singing and leading at a larger, multi-service church, we went through a phase of establishing additional campuses. “One church in multiple locations,” we’d say.
To add to the four services that went across a weekend at the city campus, a campus was established in the northern suburbs and, sometime later, a campus in the southern suburbs.
One weekend, I remember singing tenor at all five services.
Driven in part by need, in part by servant heart, and in part by physical challenge, I signed up for 24 hours of singing. It was memorable for logistics as much as anything. And totally volitional.
Saturday night was easy enough. Neat and self-contained. The 9 am, 10 am and 11 am services on Sunday were more hectic – particularly when the 10 am was in Joondalup.
We were rehearsing at 7:15 am and, when worship bracket finished around 9:20 am, I dashed for the car and headed for the Graham Farmer Freeway and up to Joondalup, arriving there at 9:50ish. Once we’d finished leading the Joondalup crew in worship, it was back to Burswood. I pulled in the car park with a generous five minutes up my sleeve.
Given Darlene Zschech (if you haven’t heard of her, try Google) was leading that night, I didn’t want to sit out the evening service and turned up at the 4 pm rehearsal for the 6 pm service.
From memory, I was given a fun-sized Mars Bar in recognition of completing the physical challenge. More work and play than rest, I’d say.
I have a quiet smile sometimes when we baulk at an 8:30 am rehearsal for a 9:30ish start these days. There’s a Monty Python sketch about ‘you were lucky…in my day’ in there somewhere.
When the southern campus launched with the same service time as Joondalup, the physical challenge moved from conceivable to impossible.
That burst of singing over a weekend was a catalyst for re-framing my thinking on leadership and serving within the body of Christ. His church.
To partner with the Holy Spirit in growing communities that plant growing communities, the goal is not to establish the point at which ministry load moves from conceivable to impossible; it’s to have reproducibility woven into the fabric of our formation. It’s to equip and multiply, not centralise devotion and authority in any direction but Jesus.
Different leaders have different capacities and can operate rhythmically with workloads of different weights. Those comparisons are a futile conversation at the best of times and certainly not the focus here. The conversations we need to have more regularly are around how to engage and activate those who we’re leading with and walking alongside, to spur one another one to good gear, and always point to source of our hope. Not superhuman physical challenges, but sustainable, relational and reproducible growth.
A physical challenge might be fun over a weekend, but over months and years, it will suck the life out of you (or suck your will to live). It’s no recipe for sustainable ministry. Nor is it a recipe for spiritual and relational intimacy.
As I scan the ecclesial landscape, I’m reminded again that no single person can carry the weight of a community.
No loss, no death, no absence of any individual should ever be mourned as desperate and final. Rather, it should be another reminder that we look again (and again and again) to the author, perfecter and finisher of our faith. Jesus’ death gives birth to resurrected life that pours into and energises the church. Our vibrancy and sustainability are found in Him. Not in any figurehead, speaker, pastor or personality. When our hope is vested in a follower of Jesus rather than Jesus himself, we set ourselves up for the greatest of disappointments. They can’t sustain the hope that can only be found in Jesus and they’ll either die trying, fry out trying, or be a source of disappointment to us and others.
The physical challenge of that weekend would normally be the work of four people; each one carrying the responsibility and deriving joy from faithfully serving and ministering to their communities.
The Kingdom of God doesn’t need another hero; it’s looking for faithful servants. One Hero did all the work – His name is Jesus. He carried away the sins of the world opening a door to life and more like that it is to be lived freely and lightly.
Does this mean that as a leader you will never have seasons of hard work and heavy loads? No. Sometimes that’s what stewardship, endurance and faithfulness look like in a season. But our eyes should never be fixed on that work or load as a source of our identity. For that matter, they should never be fixed on the work of another leader either, but on Christ alone.
Our privilege as leaders is to play some part in the revelation of the Kingdom that Jesus announces for each of those whom we shepherd and walk alongside as we follow Jesus. Each one of us adopted into his family looks to Him as Father. No one else. We’re called to partner with Him as he works in and through us through the light and easy and the hard and heavy alike as we point to a Kingdom built not on physical challenges, but on divine, far-reaching love.